Non Obvious Solutions for Practical Problem Solving

In a world saturated with best practices meant to solve your problem, it’s obvious that people yearn for the best tips and most creative tricks to set them apart from the noise. Additionally, case studies are typically the first and only place people go when they want to be innovative. However, this whole thought process is flawed by definition.

I sat down with Rohit Bhargava, author of “Non Obvious” to discuss how to truly be innovative with your problem solving techniques.


Click here for the full transcript!

Shama: Hey, guys. Shama, here. We are with Rohit Bhargava, the author of the latest Non-Obvious. Rohit, thank you so much for joining us.

Rohit: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Shama: We’re excited about your latest book. You know I’m a big fan. I love old or previous books.

Rohit: Thank you.

Shama: Personality Not Included. You got Likeonomics, obviously, which was the breakout hit. I’m a big fan. Talk to me about Non-Obvious. What does that mean?

Rohit: Yeah. I think anybody’s who had to suffer through a presentation that is perfectly obvious will know exactly what that means.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: Which is we’re surrounded by the obvious.

Shama: Yes.

Rohit: Part of the reason why I wanted to call a book Non-Obvious is that it really puts a challenge on me to think about the world and share ideas that not everybody’s heard before. Part of it is like a promise. You’re going to read something that is not really-

Shama: That is really not obvious.

Rohit: Yeah.

Shama: Share with us something that is really not obvious when it comes to problem solving.

Rohit: Yeah. Problem solving is an interesting one because we spend a lot of time trying to get inspiration, especially in the marketing world. We get inspiration from case studies. We’re so case study driven. It’s so funny because I’m sure you’ve been in this situation where you’re sitting across from someone who says, “We want to be more innovative.” You bring them an idea and the first they say is, “That’s an awesome idea. Can you show me an example of someone who’s done it before.”

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: You’re like, “Well, if it’s innovative, nobody’s done it before. That’s kind of the point.”

Shama: Yeah, yeah.

Rohit: I think the challenge for us a lot of times is when we think about innovation or thinking different, there’s no blueprint for that. There’s no template for that. As soon as we try and put a template into how we think about these things, even from a timeline point of view, all of the sudden we stick ourselves into a position where we’re making it harder for ourselves to innovate or be non-obvious.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: Part of it is throwing that away and saying, “You know what? I’m going to do this completely differently because I’m not starting from the same template. I’m not starting a document by cutting and pasting from the previous one that I had before.”

Shama: Right.

Rohit: “I’m starting from nothing.”

Shama: From scratch. Right.

Rohit: Yeah.

Shama: It can be daunting for a lot of people.

Rohit: It is daunting, but you know what? What’s more daunting, the way that it’s daunting is a blank screen. A blank screen to me is more daunting than a blank page. A physical page.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: I think a lot of times-

Shama: Define the difference for me. How is that different?

Rohit: If you’ve ever had to produce a presentation, there’s a temptation like, “Okay, I’m just going to jump in to PowerPoint or Keynote.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: And start doing my presentation.

Shama: Sure. Yeah.

Rohit: That’s the worse way to do a presentation. When I teach students at Georgetown how to do public speaking and putting a story together, I always start with Post-It Notes. Post-It Notes and Sharpies, which is a screenwriting way of doing it.

Shama: Interesting.

Rohit: It’s storyboarding.

Shama: Sure. Yeah.

Rohit: You say, “Well, what’s my first beat?” In screenwriting, you call them beats or scenes. What’s my first scene? What’s my second scene? What’s my third scene? What it divorces you from is the idea that that’s my first slide. That’s my second slide. Your first screen might have six slides eventually when you put it into presentation.

Shama: Sure.

Rohit: But the story is what’s most important. It’s not what are those six slides going to be.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: That’s later on. Part of the challenge is that we have to change the way we start thinking about filling that blank screen and instead change it to a blank page.

Shama: What else do you think it is about problem solving that people have? They go about it in an obvious way, but there is a non-obvious way to do something.

Rohit: Yeah. I think that part of it is that we train ourselves, especially in a business environment, to learn from examples that feel close to us. We’re very difficult at seeing how something that feels totally different from us can relate. What that means is that we look for case studies in our industry. We look for inspiration from people who we’ve already heard of, and we don’t necessarily gravitate toward the outside or the other side.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: I think that the challenge is that if you’re going to creatively solve a problem, then you have to embrace your own creativity in general. That’s really easy to not do because we can just kind of focus on the same stuff over and over again.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: We have to intentionally break out of that.

Shama: Especially when other people are pointing and saying, “But wait, that’s not the-. Here’s the obvious way you should do this.”

Rohit: Yeah.

Shama: It’s kind of like marching to the beat of your own drummer because when I started my company, Marketing Zen, people said, “Pick an industry. Pick an industry. Pick two industries.” Additional industries, it’s really hard to do unless you have in depth industry exposure, but I was like how else are you bringing new ideas to the table all the time?

Rohit: Yeah.

Shama: Because a big part of how we’re able to do it is we see like this works so well in healthcare. Why aren’t we applying this here to e-Commerce? Or like here’s a great idea in retail. Why can’t this be applied to manufacturing?

Rohit: Yeah.

Shama: I feel like that was the non-obvious way to go about those things of our company, but it’s paid off because I feel like the work we do with our clients gets better results because of that.

Rohit: Yeah. I think a lot of it is just learning how to ask the right questions or the right person. I know probably when we’re talking about a book, it’s not the best thing to recommend a different book, but-

Shama: No, it’s fine. Go on.

Rohit: I read a great book called Small Data by Martin Lindstrom, who’s a consumer researcher. He spends more than 300 days a year going into people’s homes and asking questions.

Shama: Great job.

Rohit: Yeah. Yeah. He’s on the road all the time.

Shama: Sure, I bet.

Rohit: But he likes that lifestyle.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: One of the things he talks about is when he goes to a foreign country, his favorite way of arriving in that country is to get a taxi driver who’s from a different place. If he goes to Germany, he’ll find a taxi driver that’s from Africa, and he’ll interview that person about the culture in Germany because that person has an outsider perspective as an immigrant.

Shama: Interesting. Yeah.

Rohit: So he gets that outsider perspective.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: That really helps him to understand that culture and that country. I felt like that was such an interesting way of using something we don’t often think about, which is the cab ride from the airport to our hotel.

Shama: Yeah.

Rohit: As an opportunity to learn about, especially a totally new and different, country if we happen to be traveling internationally.

Shama: It would be a non-obvious way to understand it.

Rohit: Yeah. That’s the kind of things we have to choose to do because nobody’s going to tell you to do that. Nobody requires you to do it, and it’s probably not part of your job.

Shama: Right.

Rohit: You have to choose to do that.

Shama: I think the idea of the non-obvious is the intentional choice.

Rohit: Yes.

Shama: Yeah. Very cool. Great book by the way. A big fan of your work. Check it out, guys. Non-Obvious. Now on Amazon and bookstores and how to think different, curate ideas and predict the future. A big promise, but it lives up to it. Thanks so much, Rohit.

Rohit: Thank you.


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